Though Airplane food isn’t for gourmets, but the pilots of the Solar Impulse 2, a solar -powered airplane that is scheduled to start a round-the-world journey next week, are looking forward to the fare Swiss food giant Nestle SA has specially prepared for them.
Over the five-month flight, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will nosh on mushroom risotto, quinoa tabouleh and other meals prepared by the Nestle Research Center. The menu, which requires them to eat 11 times a day to keep their strength, is a step up from the sandwiches the pilots ate when they flew across the U.S. in 2013.
“One hot meal per day is important,” said Mr. Piccard, adding he particularly liked a potato gratin dish that tasted as good as his wife Michele’s. “Not only can you enjoy it, but you can also look forward to it.
To ensure the food is hot, Nestle is using bags that heat themselves using a chemical reaction similar to winter hand warmers. These typically contain ingredients which when exposed to the air oxidize and release heat.
Amira Kassis, whose team at NRC, developed the food, said the challenge of designing the menu, which repeats every three days, was compounded by the nutritional needs of human beings. People need more energy at higher altitudes, even though the elevation decreases their appetites, she said.
“The food has to be energy and nutrient dense,” Dr. Kassis said. The team used simple ingredients, such as rice, olive oil and milk, to achieve the target nutritional levels.
The Nestle team had initially considered cold food, but chose hot meals following requests from the pilots to help them overcome the tough conditions they will encounter, Dr. Kassis said. But that decision created another set of problems: How would the pilots heat their meals at altitudes as high as 8,500 meters (nearly 28,000ft) in an unpressurized cockpit just 3.8 meters square?
The team thought about dry foods that could be prepared by adding water, Dr. Kassis said. “But we ruled that out because there are a lot of electronic instruments in the cockpit and we couldn’t risk getting water on them if the plane hit some turbulence.”
To preserve the food, Nestle developed sterilizing processes, which involve heat treatment for a little more than 10 minutes. The company is looking at patenting the process and possibly using it in other products.
The food also has been designed to remain fresh for up to three months, without artificial preservatives, following a request from the pilots. The menu also includes rice and chicken with summer vegetables, as well as carrot, potato-and-leek and chicken soups.
Dr. Kassis says Nestle will use the research to develop future products, including foods for the elderly. Like the pilots, older people often have restricted movements, increased energy needs but lower appetites, she said.
Messrs. Piccard and Borschberg are due to fly nearly 22,000 miles with stop-overs in China, India and the United States, among other places. Overall they will spend around 500 hours airborne, with the longest stretch across the Pacific from China to Hawaii lasting nearly six days.
All the food will be kept in a special food box, to preserve it from temperatures which will range from -40C to 40C aboard the aircraft.
Source: Wall Street Journal